Nor was Macdonald the first person to be acknowledged with a statue on Canada’s Parliament Hill – that distinction went in 1885 to Sir Georges-Étienne Cartier whose likeness was set in bronze after his colleague, Macdonald himself, lobbied for this commemoration.
Nearly 150 years after Confederation, there are still only nine known statues of him in Canada, compared to over 200 statues of Abraham Lincoln in the United States. However, there is progress afoot – a tenth statue is in production in Picton, Ontario, and now has its “head”. That statue, when finished, will depict a nineteen-year-old Macdonald presenting his first court case in the Picton Courthouse in 1834.
According to Tom Hawthorn, a former reporter and blogger with the Victoria Times Colonist, Macdonald is remembered only modestly by the country he was pivotal in founding. In fact, he writes, Macdonald is celebrated mostly by indifference.
“A bridge here, a highway there, an airport in Ottawa,lots of high schools. In Victoria the statue is near the entrance to City Hall, arms behind his back, weight against the left leg and a rear-ward lean to his stance. It is hard to say if he is coming or going.”
Although they number very few, the Macdonald statues across Canada have garnered rich histories.
Just after Macdonald’s death in 1891, Regina opted to raise money for a statue. But it was not unveiled until 1967 – 76 years later for the Confederation Centennial. Located at the south entrance to Victoria Park, ironically just across from a memorial to Louis Riel, it is a cast bronze statue designed by Cree artist Sonia De Grandmaison.
Hamilton, Ontario, was quick off the mark to plan a memorial to Macdonald, believing it would be an asset to the city and attract thousands of tourists. Four or five thousand dollars were raised, sculptors submitted proposals and an English sculptor, George E. Wade, won the competition in 1905. His statue was cast in London and shipped to Hamilton. Twenty thousand spectators attended the unveiling in 1905 and the monument was widely appreciated until a tragedy led to its removal in 1907. While en route to a blaze, Fire Chief Aitchison was thrown from a rig, struck the statue, and later succumbed to his injuries. Today Sir John A. stands in the Hamilton’s Gore Park.
Citizens of Charlottetown, PEI, waited until 2009 for the unveiling of their Sir John A. monument. The bronze sculpture of Macdonald sitting on a park bench on the corner of Victoria Row and Queen Street was created by artist Michael Halterman. That monument also had its ‘run ins’ with traffic. In 2012, a driver-less bus rolled into the side of a parked taxi in downtown Charlottetown and narrowly missed a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald, coming to a stop mere inches from the founding father’s foot.
Toronto’s statue stands in Queen’s Park, on the grounds of Ontario’s legislative building. Macdonald lived only briefly in Toronto, but some of his most intense adversarial relationships were with Ontario Premier Oliver Mowat and Globe and Mail founder, George Brown.
In Montreal in 1992, nearly one hundred years after their monument to Macdonald was unveiled, his likeness was decapitated and the letters “FLQ” were spray-painted across its base. The ‘beheading’ occurred on the anniversary of Louis Riel’s hanging, which had been one of Macdonald’s most controversial decisions. The next day, the leader of theParti Québeçois, Jacques Parizeau conceded that the decapitation might have been an act of “political provocation”. But he also said that “being a politician rather than a psychiatrist” he was unqualified “to find motives for it”.
Macdonald’s hometown of Kingston, Ontario, erected a statue in 1895 with support from the Lieutenant Governors of Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Manitoba whoserved on the city’s organizing committee. Squabbles arose when Kingston wanted to be the only national monument to its founding prime minister. In January 2013 on Macdonald’s 198thbirthday, the statue was vandalized with the words “Murderer! Colonizer” by a protest group, which made national news as the defacement was cleaned off.
Macdonald seems to be a timeless inspiration for humour. In 2012, CBC Radio’s spoof news program “This is That” decided to survey its listeners to ask who should be honoured with a statue in Napanee, Ontario – Macdonald, or Napanee’s rock femme fatale Avril Lavigne. At one point the poll was running 81.67% to 18.33% in favor of Lavigne.
With all of these interesting histories, we are fortunate that there is a Commission dedicated to capturing interesting facts, figures, stories and news about our first Prime Minister. The Sir John A. Macdonald Bicentennial Commission is eager to hear other stories about “Sir John A.”, says Claire Grady-Smith, Communications Manager for the Commission. “We are eager to hear what events and activities are being planned across the country to mark the bicentennial of his birth: be they honourific, humourous, or downright irreverent!”
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